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Crippling the Competition

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Power is a fragile thing. It tolerates no threat. Defiance must be met with an example of the wages of defiance.

"Once there was this girl who swore that one day she would be a figure skating champion
And when she finally made it, she saw some other girl who was better
And so she hired some guy to club her in the knee cap."
"Weird Al" Yankovic, "Headline News" (see the Real Life folder for the incident that inspired this)

Sometimes someone is just too good at something. There is no way you can beat them at it. Or they have humiliated you once too often in their field of expertise. You decide to fix it so they can never beat you ever again.

Crippling the Competition is when someone, usually a villain, injures their rival to get the advantage. A Sub-Trope of Career-Ending Injury, Crippling the Competition is always a deliberate act done with malice and forethought. Can overlap with Game-Breaking Injury if it occurs during the final showdown.

Sometimes, the opponent to the crippled competition isn't actually the one who did the deed and said opponent may not even have desired it. In these cases, the person responsible for crippling the competition generally is either a misguided fan trying to help, or a third party that stands to gain from a certain outcome of the match.


When applied to superpowered beings, this trope may lead to them being Brought Down to Normal.

Often overlaps with Fingore. Frequently leads to Throwing Off the Disability. A Sub-Trope of Removing the Rival. It's commonly the purpose of Unnecessary Roughness unless the roughness has no purpose and is just For the Evulz.

Different from Make an Example of Them, where in some cases the victim's punishment might deliberately target their ability to perform, but the motivation is not the fear of competition. For example, this trope would be a bunch of mobsters might break the legs of a championship marathon runner so the guy they're betting on will win, whereas, with Make an Example of Them, the mobsters break the marathon runner's legs because he failed to pay his gambling debts.

Not to be confused with Blasting It Out of Their Hands. If the person being crippled attempts to compete or fight anyway, this may lead to You Can Barely Stand.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Early in Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin encounters a thug posing as Kenshin's old assassin persona and creating a lot of trouble. When he defeats the guy, Kenshin smashes his fingers with the hilt of his sword so that the thug will never be able to use a sword again. Also, early in his days of being a Technical Pacifist, Kenshin chopped off an opponent's arm instead of killing him. The opponent thought this was a deliberate Cruel Mercy (as opposed to killing him honorably), and comes back for revenge with an Arm Cannon.
  • In The Rose of Versailles, Oscar shoots a guy's gun hand in a duel, as this is the only way she can punish him for shooting a peasant boy in cold blood.
  • Bleach:
    • Anime episode 28. During the fight between Uryu Ishida and the Soul Reaper Jirobo Ikkanzaka, Uryu fires an arrow into Jirobo in such a way as to prevent him from using spiritual pressure and thus making it impossible to continue as a Soul Reaper.
    • Anime episode 156. Uryu Ishida does the same thing to the arrancar Cirucci Sanderwicci, firing an arrow into her chest to seal off her power.
  • In Gunsmith Cats, Rally has a habit of shooting the hands (specifically the trigger fingers) of opposing gunmen. Some have come back looking for revenge because of their crippled hands.
  • Ranma ½: Kodachi Kunō tries doing this to Ranma before their big match. However, Akane thwarts each effort. Ryōga also tries to beat up Ranma before the match, but the fight lasts the entire night without a winner.
  • An early episode of Pokémon depicted such a scenario; to increase his chances of winning an upcoming Pokémon race, a man named Dario hires Team Rocket to do this to his rival Lara Laramie, which they do by spooking her Ponyta, causing it to throw her off and break her arm, leaving Ash to win the race in her stead. In The Electric Tale of Pikachu, this plotline is retained with one difference: Dario spooks said Ponyta and knocks Lara off of it himself.
  • Ice Revolution: The slashed thigh that nearly ended Saaya's career is implied to have resulted from a skating rivalry gone bad similar to the Real Life Harding/Kerrigan affair. Subverted when we meet the so-called perpetrator and learn that it truly was an accident and she's still haunted by guilt.
  • In Ping Pong: The Animation, Coach Koizumi shares a tale with Smile: In his youth, he ended up playing the finale of a tournament, which would have made his career, against his best friend. Said best friend had a hurt knee and Koizumi knew he could probably win if he intentionally kept playing towards that knee with the intent of overburdening it, but chose not to and therefore lost. In the climax of the anime Smile and Pedro are put against each other in the Big Game's finale, but Pedro hurt his knee in the quarter-finals. The last thing we see before the match is Smile telling Koizumi "I can do it". Cut to the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue and we learn he didn't.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, before reaching Pegasus's island. Insector Haga throws Yugi's Exodia cards off the ship to sabotage his chances of winning. He also does this to Joey, in the Battle City arc.
  • Captain Tsubasa has some players who invoke this trope as much as possible in the soccer fields, with Makoto Souda as the most infamous example. It doesn't end well - for *them*.

    Comic Books 
  • In Jonah Hex #11 (original series), a gambler Jonah caught cheating hires thugs to ambush Jonah and breaks his hands with a sledgehammer.
  • In an issue of Hawkman, Green Arrow stops the villainous archer the Spider by shooting out the Spider's eye, destroying his ability to aim unless he manages to switch handedness.
  • In The Dark Knight Returns, it's strongly implied that Superman amputated Green Arrow's arm to force his former ally to abandon his vigilante activities. Subverted in that GA can still shoot his bow using his teeth to draw the string and gets a bionic arm in the sequel.
  • In a Thorgal comic, Thorgal and his friends, excellent bowmen taking part in an archery competition, are jumped by a group of thugs led by their competitor, who says that there's no need to kill them... just break their wrists.
  • In an issue of The Winter Soldier, a bad guy arranges for a ballerina to suffer a leg injury in a car accident so that Black Widow can take her place as an understudy.
  • In Robyn Hood, Cal King cuts out Robyn's left eye to destroy her ability as an archer.
  • Elfes et Nains: In the Gladiator Games where the winner is declared Runelord, Rom has Redwin stabbed in the belly not long before the games, nearly killing him but still heavily crippling him too because he fears Redwin.

    Comic Strips 
  • During a basketball game in Safe Havens the opposing team's coach instructed one of his players to injure Dave on the knee that had already been injured to take him out. Unfortunately for them, Dave (who for some context wore a visor and headphones at this point of his life) had recorded the whole conversation. Once he and Samantha exposed it, both player and coach got kicked out of the sport, with the coach having to pay damages to Dave as well. The injury didn't keep Dave out too long, but it contributed to the weakening of his ligaments, leading to the end of his NBA dreams when they finally snapped (while he scored the NCAA championship-winning point for Havens U, no less). He would eventually make a career in Europe.

    Eastern Animation 
  • In episode 3 of Rimba Racer Tag is whacked on the head with a wrench and spends a couple of days in the hospital but recovers in time for the next race, where he discovers that his car was sabotaged as well.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "The Grateful Beasts", Ferko's brothers think he's too good-looking and everyone takes a fancy to him; they will get on better without him. So they break his legs and put his eyes out before abandoning him.

    Fan Works 
  • In the pro wrestling story, A Ring of Their Own, The Beautiful People attack Taylor Wilde in the locker room, making her unable to wrestle in the finals of the FWF Tag Team Title Tournament, making them the winners by default.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Karate Kid gives one of the most famous examples when the evil instructor orders a student to intentionally injure Daniel's leg in the semi-finals match. This means the guy will be disqualified for an illegal hit, but injury prevents Daniel from facing the instructor's prize pupil in the actual Final Round, guaranteeing victory. The plan only fails because Mr. Miyagi has Healing Hands and Daniel has learned the iconic Crane Stance, which lets him keep his weight off the injured leg when the injury is aggravated in the finals. Notably, both Cobra Kai students are appalled at Kreese's order even if they go along with it.
  • In The Quick and the Dead, Ratsy breaks Cort's right hand before his gunfight with Herod, forcing him to fight with his left hand.note 
  • In D2: The Mighty Ducks, Wolf "The Dentist" Stanson whacks Gordon Bombay's bad leg, keeping Bombay from winning a game of three bar against him.
  • In Shoot 'em Up, Hertz tortures Smith by breaking his trigger fingers and then threatens to cut his eyes out. This ends very badly for Hertz.
  • In the film version of Daredevil, Bulls Eye's hands are injured in the climactic battle with Daredevil, and he says, "You took away my hands! Show mercy!"
  • A possible inversion (or just unusual example) in the Mariachi Trilogy. In the backstory shown in Desperado, the Mariachi received a hand wound that ruins him as a guitar player. However, it doesn't do anything to impair his later Improbable Aiming Skills as a gunfighter.
  • Not exactly a Western, but the same philosophy is shown in the film version Starship Troopers.
    Ace Levy: Sir, I don't understand. What good's a knife in a nuke fight? All you have to do is press a button, sir.
    Career Sergeant Zim: Put your hand on that wall, trooper. [Ace hesitates] PUT YOUR HAND ON THAT WALL! [Zim throws a knife and hits Ace's hand, pinning it to the wall] The enemy cannot press a button... if you have disabled his hand. Medic!
Note that his answer was completely different in the book.
  • In The Hustler, "Fast Eddie" Felson has his thumbs broken by a pool shark who doesn't like being hustled.
  • In A Fistful of Dollars, the bad guys stomp on Joe's hands while beating him.
  • In Yojimbo, Sanjuro is beaten senseless for rescuing the family that Ushitora's gang was holding hostage.
  • In Django, bandits ride over Django's hands with horses in retaliation for stealing gold from them.
  • Kung Fu Hustle: the Harpist manages to cut the palms of Donut, whose specialty is with staffs.
  • In the 1949 Film Noir The Set-Up, a washed-up boxer wins a fight he was supposed to lose. The mobsters who put the fix on the fight retaliate by breaking his hand so he can never box again.
  • In Gladiator, Commodus restrains and stabs Maximus just prior to their final, climactic arena duel in order to gain the upper hand during the fight. It still isn't enough to hinder him.
  • In Blade Runner, Roy Batty breaks Deckard's fingers to hamper his ability to use his gun. Deckard starts using his other hand instead.
  • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace has champion podracer Sebulba "accidentally" bump another podracer, messing it up and making it unable to race.
  • At the end of El Mariachi, the main antagonist shoots the mariachi's hand, preventing him from playing guitar.
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: After Johnny beats him at poker, Senator Roark breaks the fingers of his game hand with a pair of pliers. Shooting him in the knee is just an act of pure sadism.
  • In Happy Gilmore, Shooter's psychotic and devoted fan hits Happy with a car during the final showdown. The injury doesn't prevent him from competing, but it does eliminate his incredible long shot, forcing Happy to rely more on the skills he's been developing for his short game.
  • A Knight's Tale:
    • First discussed, then played with, then played straight:
      Count Adhemar: How would you beat him?
      Advisor: With a stick. While he slept. But on a horse, with a lance? That man is unbeatable.
    • Following this, Adhemar plays with the trope by striking at Will politically, exposing him as a false-knight so he can't compete. When that doesn't work (because Will actually gets knighted), Adhemar resorts to straight-up cheating by using actual pointed lances disguised as the tournament-legal blunted ones. The stabbing injury he inflicts on Will with one forces him to shed his armor and risk death to continue competing.
  • In The Longest Yard, the warden of the prison orders a former football player named Crewe who has set up a "convicts vs. guards" game to give the guards a 21-point advantage or he will frame him for involvement in a murder. Essentially having no choice, Crewe agrees provided the warden will have the guards not injure the prisoners. The warden agrees, then double-crosses Crewe by later telling the head of the guards once they have a 21-point advantage to "inflict as much physical punishment on the prisoners as humanly possible."
  • Mr. Washington does this to the anti-heroine Alex in Momentum. Realising just how badass this particular Action Girl is, Washington stabs her in the leg to prevent her running or fighting effectively. The wound leaves Alex physically crippled to the extent she's left with a limp. Washington's mistake is underestimating Alex's mental capacity - and since she's The Chessmaster extraordinaire that proves to be fatal.
  • In King of Beggars, Chiu breaks So's legs, preventing him from ever using martial arts again.
  • The Harder They Fall: When one of Toro's opponents balks at Throwing the Fight and looks like he's going to beat Toro, his coach puts a chemical in his towel that disables him and allows Toro to win.
  • Red Sparrow: In the opening of the film, Dominika, a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi, suffers a Career-Ending Injury when her danseur flubs a move. Her uncle, an SVR officer, informs her that the danseur did it on purpose because he was sleeping with Dominika's understudy. Dominika promptly goes back over to the Bolshoi and beats the crap out of them both with her cane, impressing Uncle Vanya enough that he recruits her to be an SVR operative.
  • The 1933 John Wayne Western Riders Of Destiny has "Singing Sandy" Saunders get into a Showdown at High Noon with a gunslinger sent by the villain. He out-draws his opponent and shoots him through the wrist of his gun hand, then through the other wrist.
  • In The Climax, Dr. Hohner initially hypnotises Angela so she will never sing again so that her voice can never outshine that of his beloved Marcellina. When the hypnosis fails, he tries to cut her tongue out.

  • A popular (but questionable) etymology for the profane variant of the V-Sign is that it came from archers taunting enemy soldiers who would cut off the middle and index fingers of any archers they captured (Welsh archers taunting Englishmen or English archers taunting Frenchmen tend to be the most common).
  • Pecos Bill is often reputed to have shot off his opponents' trigger fingers in gunfights. He can be seen doing this in the movie Tall Tale.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones: Jamie Lannister, one of the top swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms has his hand cut off by Vargo Hoat.
  • In the backstory of Neuromancer, the main character was a hacker who was caught stealing and punished by being given a treatment that destroyed his ability to interface with the matrix.
  • The "Waxahachie Smith" series by J.T. Edson is about a gunfighter who had his trigger fingers amputated by vengeful foes.
  • In Jules Verne's Michel Strogoff, the eponymous character is blinded by having his eyes exposed to a heated iron by his foes.
  • One of the 1632 novels had a violinist who had had his left hand crippled by a jealous rival.
  • In the backstory of Assassin of Gor, a chess player was blinded by a powerful man whom he had beaten in a game. But he is still able to play because he can visualize the board.
  • A rare heroic example occurs in Brian Daley's Han Solo's Revenge: after Han gets roped into a formal duel against the notorious gunslinger Gallandro, he conspires to stun both of their right hands. This forces Gallandro to concede since Solo is ambidextrous and Gallandro isn't.
  • In All For The Game, Kevin's broken hand, expected to be a Career-Ending Injury, wasn't really from a skiing accident. It was actually Riko's fault.
  • In Ratcatcher, Hawkwood gets in a Ten Paces and Turn duel with a young bravo. After his opponent misses, Hawkwood deliberately aims and shoots to cripple his gun arm and prevent him from fighting any further duels.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Mr. Denton on Doomsday", the title character Al Denton, a washed up Retired Gunfighter faces off against a young wannabee named Pete Grant in a duel, both using a potion granting quick draw abilities. Both men manage to inflict hand injuries preventing each other from ever using guns again. Denton sees this as a blessing, as it will prevent either from engaging in any more reckless duels.
  • In the Angel episode "Supersymmetry" Fred is ecstatic to publish her paper on superstring theory. Even better is that she's being overseen by Oliver Seidel, her old college professor who she's praised for helping her out. During her presentation, a portal opens and nearly pulls Fred in. Fred realizes that not only is Seidel responsible but he's also the one who opened the portal that caused Fred to spend five years in the demon dimension of Pylea. Worse is Fred going through the records to see that almost every year, one or two very promising students have vanished without a trace and realizes to her horror that Seidel is getting rid of anyone who's smarter than him for fear they'll end up taking his job. Needless to say, her reaction is a grand combination of Broken Pedestal and Murder Is the Best Solution.
  • In an episode of Bones the Victim of the Week had done this to himself shortly before he was killed: he slammed his right hand with a desk drawer to break it, in order to remove the temptation of going to a music school to study piano.
  • In an episode of Coach the Orlando Breakers are in Buffalo to play the Bills when Luther accepts a dinner of Buffalo Wings from a bar/restaurant called "Buffalo Billy's." The entire team comes down with food poisoning and Coach Fox has to draft anyone he can find to fill the uniforms. Afterward, Luther goes back to "Billy's" and asks the owner if it was intentional. The owner says no, but isn't too convincing about it.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210. Incensed when Brenda gets the lead in the school play, her rival first starts rumors that she used the Casting Couch to get the part, then suggests to her boyfriend that he physically harm her so that she'll have to give it up.
  • In Flesh and Bone someone involved with the American Ballet Company tries to do this to Claire by putting broken glass in her pointe shoes. Word of God says it was the company's artistic director Paul. Ironically, not to harm her, but to get the best performance possible. Fortunately, they have underestimated her new-found drive to overcome her series-long Trauma Conga Line.
  • Subverted in a Law & Order episode based on the Tonya-Nancy saga. When a tennis player's wrist is broken, suspicion falls on her rival. It turns out that the girls were actually friends and arranged the attack because she wanted to quit but knew that her Stage Dad wouldn't let her otherwise.
  • Leverage: In "The Studio Job", an unscrupulous record producer breaks both hands of a songwriter so he can never play an instrument again.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: In "Delicate", a shard of broken glass is inserted into a ballerina's shoe that causes a lingering injury that threatens to derail her career.
  • The Tonya Harding case is parodied in an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry is dating Bette Midler's understudy in a stage production of Rochelle, Rochelle. When George and Jerry accidentally injure Midler in a celebrity softball game, forcing Jerry's girlfriend into the role, New Yorkers accuse Jerry of injuring her intentionally.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • A very regular occurrence, usually where the heel will attack his face opponent before a big match to gain the upper hand.

    Video Games 
  • A self-inflicted example from Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura: William Thorndop, formerly the world's greatest marksman, has taken a vow of non-violence, and cut off his own trigger fingers to make sure he can never hold a firearm again.
  • A self-inflicted example in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance; late in the game, it's revealed that Ike's father Greil had crippled his own arm so that he could never use his sword again—as atonement for slaughtering a great number of people (including his beloved wife Elena) while under the influence of a certain pendant (which only said wife could hold without succumbing to its influence).
  • Throughout the Fallout series, you can use target shots to aim at enemy body parts. Shooting the eyes or head lowers their accuracy, shooting the arms may prevent them from using certain weapons, and shooting the legs lowers movement speed.
  • In Jade Empire, an early sidequest requires you to heal an injured fellow student so she can take part in a competition against you. The Open Palm choice is to get her a medicine that actually heals her, but if you prefer the Closed Fist, you can give her an ointment that only removes the pain, resulting in her starting the fight with much less health and ending up crippled for life. For extra adherence to the Closed Fist ideology (one of the few cases when it's actually used correctly), you can reveal to her what you did afterward, and tell her that relying on you made her weak - she should have dealt with her problem on her own.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, during Chapter 3 (the Boxing Episode of the game), at one point someone sends you a poisoned cake just before you start a fight. If you fall for the Schmuck Bait, you're forced to fight the next battle alone, without any of your partners. (Ignore it, and a different fighter is crippled by the poisoned cake instead.) It turns out to be the work of the champion, Rawk Hawk, in response to a perceived slight against him by your character.
  • Inverted in Golden Sun, where instead of using Psynergy to preemptively defeat Colosso competitors, you use it to give Isaac an unfair advantage by using non-combat abilities to make the obstacle course section easier (such as moving a log to form a bridge, creating a vine ladder, blocking a conveyor belt mechanism, etc.).
  • In Shining Song Starnova, Mariya mentions that trainee Idol Singers would sabotage their rivals by sticking thumbtacks in their shoes during her time with Quasar. A major incident of this takes place in Nemu’s route, where an increasingly paranoid and jealous Nemu topples a heavy metal shelf onto Starnova’s newest recruit Kaori, breaking the poor girl’s ankle and ending her career.

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang uses Spiritbending to rob Firelord Ozai of his firebending ability, taking away the threat he poses to the world without breaking Aang's Thou Shalt Not Kill policy.
  • One of the villains of the week in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) is Mephos, an Avian who was punished for crimes against his race by having the wings torn from his back and being forced to live as a human.
  • On Robot Chicken Sinestro (accidentally) cuts off both of Green Lantern's hands. Green Lantern counters by finding someplace else to wear his ring.
  • The Simpsons: In "Team Homer", Mr. Burns forces his way onto Homer's bowling team (for which he was tricked into writing a $500 check), the team is disgusted at the old man's complete ineptitude but cannot simply kick him off. Moe hatches a plan to bash in his knee with a lead pipe so he can't play. Unfortunately, he does so when Burns is already indisposed and his whack on the knee has the exact opposite effect: the injured Burns is able to play again.
  • In an episode of Cow and Chicken, the Red Guy injures Chicken's ice skating partner Earl, a direct Shout-Out to the Harding-Kerrigan fiasco.
  • Futurama:
    • Bender drugs a bunch of racehorses (and a jockey who caught him) so the only one he hasn't drugged will win and net him a big payoff.
    • It's also used against Bender in an episode where he's entered a tap-dancing competition and his opponent busts up one of his kneecaps.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Flight to the Finish", Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon emotionally cripple Scootaloo so that they can win a contest to carry the flag at the Equestrian Games instead of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Notably, their insults are more biting and hurtful, something they acknowledged because their usual throwing of the "blank flank" slur wasn't working anymore.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Next of Pin", Stan shivs Steve in the ankle to prevent him from beating him in a bowling competition.
  • In the Little Einsteins episode "The Great Sky Race Rematch", Big Jet destroys Rocket's flight button to prevent him from beating him again.
  • In the Kim Possible episode Showdown at the Crooked D, Dr. Drakken envies the intelligence of the world's leading scientists, so he invents Silly Hats for them to wear that make them act like doofuses.

    Real Life 
  • Figure skater Tonya Harding's then-husband Jeff Gillooly hired someone to attack her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, with a metal police baton. The extent of Harding's own involvement remains debatable.
  • A journalist asked former Tennis player Rod Laver (a contender for the Greatest of All Time title) how he would go about beating current player Roger Federer (another contender) if they had been professional at the same time. Laver replied, "Hit him over the head with a tennis raquette."
  • Also in tennis, an obsessive Steffi Graf fan infamously stabbed her rival Monica Seles during a match in 1993.
  • Twenty-seven members of the New Zealand national rugby team developed food poisoning two days before the grand final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, where they were to play host nation South Africa. Legend has it, it was a deliberate act by a mysterious waitress called "Suzie".
  • During the Cold War, the Soviets were known to punish Turbulent Priests by cutting off their hands, since that was the only disability that disqualifies one from sanctifying the Eucharist.
  • Also during the Cold War, specifically the Summit Series between the Soviet Union's Red Army hockey team and the NHL's top Canadian stars, Bobby Clarke famously broke Soviet star player Valeri Kharlomov's ankle with a slash. An Assistant Coach had called Clarke to the bench prior and suggested Kharlamov "needs a tap on the ankle."


Video Example(s):


Dawn of the Dragon Racers

Unintentional or not, Snotlout takes advantage of Astrid's broken-arm.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / CripplingTheCompetition

Media sources:

Main / CripplingTheCompetition